On April 9, 2010, at 6:30 a.m., Vernon Murphy woke up, rolled out of bed in his Coatesville, Pa., home and resolved to run.
He hated jogging, but he got up anyway. Because Murphy got up that morning, pulled on his shorts, laced up his shoes, and then gasped his way through a half-mile run, Barbara, who has advanced ovarian cancer, could cover last month’s rent. Gerry, who has scalp, lung, and colon cancer, could pay his electric bill. Darlene, who has late-stage colorectal cancer, got help with her medical bills.
Murphy is the founder of OneRunTogether, a tiny charity that organizes fund-raising runs for cancer patients. Since its founding in August 2011, the volunteer organization has handed out about $10,000 in 37 grants of a few hundred dollars each to help families pay bills, fix vehicles, cover childcare, and keep current on their health insurance premiums. Murphy’s motto: “Run together, so no one fights cancer alone.”
Murphy’s race started on Dec. 1, 2001, when his wife Beth was diagnosed with breast cancer. It went into remission but returned in 2007. After two agonizing years, she passed away on Nov. 13, 2009.
The loss engulfed Murphy in grief and he started, he said, “sleep-walking through life.” He remembers very little from this period except a feeling that God was in control.
After five months, at a friend’s faithful urging, Murphy decided that April morning to try running to deal with the pain and listlessness.
“I knew it wouldn’t kill me,” he laughed, but he very nearly thought he would die as he struggled through that first outing.
Murphy resolved to run daily for a month, and the first three days of solo runs it rained hard. “God has a sense of humor,” he said. But he persevered, and as he continued to run, he felt the fog lift. He began to sleep again and regain his concentration and zest for life.
On a missions trip to Germany that summer, he shared his testimony in a church. It was scary, he said, but, “I came down from the pulpit and just knew that God wanted me to tell of His faithfulness.”
When he returned home he founded OneRunTogether (ORT) and immediately brought on his future daughter-in-law, Rebecca, a recent graduate from Penn State University with a degree in marketing, as event coordinator.
ORT holds several 5K and 1-mile runs per month, organizes events at local restaurants, and receives donations from individuals and corporate sponsors. Grant applicants must be in treatment and demonstrate financial need. A five-member board approves the requests.
Lynne Lawrence was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year and underwent surgery. Murphy and Rebecca visited her, brought her a Bible and a hand-written card, and prayed with her. “That personal touch was wonderful,” Lawrence said. “They invest themselves, not just the money.”
The races are family and community events—9- and 10-year-olds runs beside their parents, and breast cancer survivors run in pink T-shirts. Volunteer Sharon Valentino said when Murphy shares his own story at each event, people soak in every word.
“It really gives you a sense of hope—hope in terms of supporting people who are dealing with cancer, and hope for the community,” Valentino said.
Murphy still runs most days. “It’s a bittersweet feeling,” he said, admitting that being with cancer patients vividly reminds him of his wife. “But it was all part of God’s plan, and I am now able to empathize with them and share God’s love with them. It’s bittersweet, but it’s more sweet than bitter.”